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Local club marks half a century


Optimist Club of Calvert charter members, left to right, Robert L. Chaney and Philip R. Mohler

Barstow, MD - The year 1968 gave the world a whole lot to handle—assassinations, riots, a dysfunctional political convention, protests, drugs. It was hard to remain optimistic. Yet, a band of civic-minded men residing in rural Calvert County were courted to become Optimists. The leaders of an Optimist Club in Baltimore County wanted to help expand the Optimist International chain by starting a club in Calvert. According to an account printed by the Optimist Club of Calvert, county resident Phil Mohler “was working in Baltimore County and met Dick Price, immediate past governor for the Maryland District of Optimist International. The Parkville Optimist Club was interested in forming a club in Southern Maryland, according to Dick Price. Phil referred them via Dick, to Jim King, a lifelong resident of Calvert County. Jim was receptive to the idea and the work began.”

“I guess we didn’t know what we were getting into,” said Mohler during the club’s recent celebration of its 50th anniversary, which was held at the Calvert County Fairgrounds. Mohler and King—who has since passed away—were two of 29 charter members when the club formally organized October 7, 1968.

“When the Optimist Club began we became the most active service organization in Calvert County that year,” Mohler stated. “We are still the most active service club in the county.”

As part of the celebration, Mohler and three other surviving charter members—Robert L. Chaney, Spencer R. Howes and William C. Schwallenberg Jr.—recalled the club’s early years. Originally, a fourth charter member—Charles W. “Dickie” Pitcher, who was the original chairman of the club’s 50th anniversary—was supposed to be part of the discussion. However, Pitcher, a former county orphans court judge who was arguably best known for his years of overseeing the club’s prominent sign on southbound Route 2/4, died back in late August. The members left an empty chair at the table to mark Pitcher’s absence.

All Optimist Clubs are non-profit organizations and rely on the support of the community. That financial support enables the club members to undertake many projects, primarily benefitting the community’s youth. “In its earliest years the Calvert Optimist Club did projects that did not cost any or much money,” the organization’s historical account stated. “In fact, many of the materials needed to perform projects were donated by members of the business community. Some of the earliest community projects included putting up basketball nets at various churches, installing football goal posts at Calvert Senior High School, installing a flagpole at the fairgrounds and painting the horse ring at the fairgrounds.”

Mohler recalled the second and third years that the club was in existence seemed to be the hardest.

“We did have a lot of fellowship,” said Schwallenberg, who recalled local businessman and charter member Earl M. Thompson “bailed us out a few times.” Among the “fun times” Schwallenberg recounted were trips to points north—sometimes in wintry weather riding in a cantankerous truck—to pick up Christmas trees that were sold by club members during the Holiday Season in Prince Frederick.

The tree sales remain a huge fundraiser for the club. “Christmas trees pays the bills,” said Chaney, who got misty-eyed when recalling the club members exploits in procuring the trees and some of the other activities, including the annual fishing tournament for children.

Clearly, Pitcher’s recent passing weighed heavy on the charter members’ minds. Howes referred to Pitcher as “a public relations specialist.”
Among the sports activities the local Optimists got involved with were Little League, Babe Ruth League, Girls Bowling League, Kick-Pass-Punt contest and the Small Fry Soccer League. During the late 1970s the club conducted a state-certified hunter safety course.

The Optimist Club of Calvert has also held an oratorical contest. The first winner, retired Calvert County Department of Planning and Zoning Director Greg Bowen, sent a letter that was read at the anniversary celebration and he recalled his days as a local high school student. “I was a true farm boy,” Bowen recalled, adding that presenting the speech, “was a daunting challenge.” Preparing a speech for the contest, practicing and delivering it in front of spectators and judges “taught me how to speak to the public.”

"Without the Optimist Club, we [students] wouldn't have as many opportunities to help the community,"said Jessica Misorek, president of the Calvert High School Junior Optimist Club. The spin-off club is getting involved in the community with activities such as a "senior prom" for senior citizens. 

Since 1975 the local Optimists have been awarding scholarships to Calvert’s high achieving youth. The grants have been as large as $8,000. “Almost $260,000 in scholarship money has been given away,” said club member Ed Dorsey, who is currently president of the Calvert Optimist Community Parks Foundation. "This is a great organization. We’re looking forward to the next 50 years.”

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com

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